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April 6, 2020

Abbott Could Put Truce in Texas Beer Battle at Risk
with Nod to Craft Brewers Emergency Salvation Plea

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Governor Greg Abbott could find himself in the heart of a high-stakes battle that the coronavirus has rekindled amid a push by the Texas craft brewing industry to have used his singular authority to remove restrictions that were part of a compromise that the independent upstarts negotiated with power beer distributors at the Texas Capitol last year

The craft brewers and bars that sell the homegrown product have filed a formal request to have the Republican governor intervene on their behalf on an emergency basis amid fears that they might not survive the economic devastation of the pandemic without it.

A Texas Craft Brewers Guild survey of the shuttering of the economy in Texas and other states has culminated in a plunge of more than 70 percent in the flow of money into a business that had appeared to be thriving before COVID-19 slammed the Lone Star State with an ever-increasing intensity in the past month.

Armed with more than 16,000 signatures, craft beer executives want Abbott to slap a temporary freeze on state limitations on the shipping and delivery of the products that they brew. The craft brewers also are urging the governor to order a temporary delay in state tax collection in addition to approving credits for beer that they'd already produced before an Abbott-issued mandate that halted business operations of goods and services that he doesn't deem to be essential.

Craft beer could only be sold on the premises where it's made in Texas until lawmakers endorsed a pact that the industry rivals fashioned in a major win for the independent brewers during the regular legislative session in 2019. The deal cleared the Legislature as a provision in the sunset bill for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The most publicized element in the compromise had been the granting of the right for craft beer operators to sell their products for carry out.

But the beer distributors who'd crafted the state's three-tier system for alcohol sales here indicated that the craft brewers and brewpubs had promised to give the relaxed regulations several years to work before they returned to the statehouse in an attempt to weaken them more.

The local producers apparently have abandoned that plan in the face of potential economic ruin brought on by a public health emergency that has most of the Texans in urban areas isolated in their homes where they can have groceries and beers that are national brands delivered. Restaurants and bars are still allowed to sell food and alcoholic products for curbside pickup or delivery as official essential services even though dining in person is prohibited until the end of April at the earliest.

The craft brewers are taking a page from playbooks that Texas home builders and commercial developers have in a successful push for a green light for the governor to continue construction around the state. Estate lawyers have secured a nod from Abbott as well in a pitch for the right to draft or to change wills wthout the need for additional witnesses or stamps of approval from licensed notaries.

But the limits on businesses that Abbott has waived up to now have appeared to be relatively controversial in contrast to a potential fight that he would have to referee with the softening of regulations on craft brewers that the industry had sought but failed to secure in the last round of bargaining.

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